Last week, I took a ride on the Shopping Bus with eight residents of Maple Pointe apartments in Chicago. I arrived a few minutes early and discovered several people gathered in the community room waiting for the bus. I introduced myself and the first thing someone said was, “Thank you for providing the bus, it’s a lifeline for us!”
An article in the Washington Post reported that, “One in six seniors faces the threat of hunger, according to the State of Senior Hunger in America. In the last 15 years, the number of seniors suffering from hunger jumped by 45 percent. Food insecurity is dangerous for everyone but for the elderly in particular. Hungry seniors are 60 percent more likely to experience depression, 53 percent more likely to report a heart attack and 52 percent more likely to develop asthma. Those who live alone are at particular risk."
Independence: Shopping on their own terms
When the bus arrived and everyone got in, Ernest, our driver, asked them were they wanted to shop that day. Part of what makes our bus service unique is that we let the riders pick where they'd like to shop, so that seniors can get the specific food and household items that they need. This practice helps us to meet seniors' needs and allows seniors to maintain their independence.
The consensus was to go to Aldi but there was some discussion about the new Mariano’s. Several of the riders were concerned that the store was on two floors and too spread out. That meant a lot of walking for those who used a cane or walker. (Over 70 percent of our riders need some kind of mobility aid to get around safely.) It also meant less time to actually shop.
The little things make a big difference
On the way to Aldi’s I asked the riders why our program was important to them. One woman said, “There are a lot of ways I could get to the grocery store but that is all I get—a ride. Ernest cares about us. He helps us on and off the bus. Ernest comes in the store with us to see if we are doing ok. He loads our groceries on the bus for us and then when we get home he carries them into the building for us. I asked the driver of another bus service to do that for me and he said, 'That’s not my job.'"
That extra effort from Ernest is a BIG help to seniors! A study by the Greater Chicago Food Depository found that almost a third seniors were unable to obtain food at some point even though they could afford food. The most common reason cited: an illness or physical limitation, especially when the individual lived alone. The weight of food is also a problem for older adults. Some reported being unable to carry home heavy items like meat, produce, and milk, and instead bought fewer foods or lighter (weight), less nutritious foods.
Our Shopping Bus offers solutions to these problems: direct access to healthy food, accessible transportation, support with carrying groceries, and person-centered support—rather than focusing on particular problems the senior needs solved, we focus on the person and determine what additional services he or she might need and make appropriate referrals.
Food Security: Fresh Food, made easy
When we got to Aldi's I discovered that most everyone went first to the Trader Joe's which is one floor up. As I wandered around the store talking to some of the folks, I discovered their carts were filling up with fresh fruits and vegetables and other kinds of healthy food.
I was reminded again by everyone of the riders that day just how important the Shopping Bus is to them--without it, getting fresh food would be a little harder and they wouldn't be able to do it on their own terms, with the support they need.
We rely on individual donations to support the Shopping Bus. Last year our donors helped provide 3.572 rides to seniors, many of whom live in food deserts and have limited access to fresh and healthy food. Please help us keep the Shopping Bus running for another year.
This year H.O.M.E. is hosting a Pajama Gala on Tuesday, December 1, 2015 to celebrate Giving Tuesday and make a big impact for seniors in 2016. Follow us on Facebook for updates, and RSVP to the event to find out more about how you can participate from your own home!
To find out more about H.O.M.E. and to provide support to low-income seniors, please visit our website.
This post is part of our series to celebrate Giving Tuesday, which will take place this year on December 1, 2015. The idea behind #GivingTuesday is to kickoff the holiday-giving season, in the same way that Black Friday and Cyber Monday kickoff the holiday-shopping season.
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